But before we make our jokes about tin foil hats and move on, we should recognize how such cyber chicanery can have a very real impact.
This part barely made headlines here, likely because it involved wingnuts in North Carolina. But in August 2015, the feds arrested three men who were building bombs, stockpiling guns and preparing to attack our government because of Jade Helm.
Back then, we were all busy rolling our eyes at Gov. Greg Abbott tasking the Texas State Guard with monitoring the U.S. military training exercises happening that summer in Bastrop County, while similar special ops training was held in several other states. But the notion of a martial law takeover by the U.S. military was not an obvious hoax to Walter Eugene Litteral, Christopher James Barker and Christopher Todd Campbell — then 50, 41 and 30, respectively.
According to arrest affidavits, these men gathered the materials to make pipe bombs and explosive tennis balls covered in nails. They had dozens of guns, military-issue Kevlar helmets, body armor vests and handheld radios with throat microphones. They planned to ambush U.S. soldiers on a 99-acre camp in Clover, S.C., a town not far from Charlotte, N.C.
“According to (Campbell),” the warrant stated, “he and Litteral intend to booby-trap the camp and draw government’s forces into the camp and kill them.”
Thankfully that showdown never came. The owner of a military surplus store where the men bought their gear learned of their plot and alerted the FBI, according to the Washington Post.
Of course it’s possible Litteral, Barker and Campbell would have planned their attack even without the involvement of Russian bots. After all, the bots simply spread the conspiracy theory that was already out there. It was a real person, right-wing provocateur Alex Jones, who conjured the fever dream in March 2015 that Jade Helm, the multi-state military training exercise planned for that summer, was somehow something sinister.
But as the conspiracy theory spread online with lightning speed, with a flurry of comments and shares that suggested legions of alarmed residents, real people took notice. And a handful of elected officials pandered to the paranoia.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, issued a statement in May 2015 saying “true patriots” had cause to be “legitimately suspicious.” That same month, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, then making his run for president, demanded answers from the Pentagon because “the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration.”
I know Republicans had major differences with the Obama Administration. But I think we can agree Gohmert and Cruz didn’t exactly nail this one.
In providing this week’s revelation about the Russian bots, former CIA director Michael Hayden helped us understand how the clearly ludicrous Jade Helm conspiracy theory spread so far and wide, and how the success of this operation paved the way for Russian meddling in the social media chatter around the 2016 presidential campaign. And that’s troubling enough. But let’s not lose sight of the life-or-death stakes in this realm of Internet mischief.
Unsurprisingly, criticism of President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States has been swift and harsh.
There’s enough in the ban to criticize: From the void of American values of defending the marginalized “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to the legally questionable practice of targeting and discrimination of a single religious group. It may be billed as a tool against terrorism, but the danger in its text serves more as a fan to inflame radical-Islamic enemies.
Critics – as well as thousands of protestors across the country, including here in Austin – aren’t standing idly by.
And then points out that the “breathtaking in scope and inflammatory in tone” order issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less, lacks any logic. “It invokes the attacks of Sept. 11 as a rationale, while exempting the countries of origin of all the hijackers who carried out that plot and also, perhaps not coincidentally, several countries where the Trump family does business.”
Civil rights activist and Baptist preacher Jesse Jackson makes similar comments and adds that Trump’s policy will make it more dangerous for American Muslims here in the U.S. while it also makes for excellent ISIS recruitment material.
“The real problem is that the unintended consequences are likely to be far more dangerous than doing nothing. For ISIS and al-Qaida, the order is a gift. It feeds their argument that the Muslim world is facing a war on Islam led by the Great Satan (the U.S.) intent on persecuting Muslims.
“The anger and hatred generated will make it more difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to cooperate with the U.S. At home, a Muslim community under siege — and faced with rising hate crimes — is likely to become more closed, not less, and less cooperative, not more. If we will not respect their rights and security, they will be less likely to be concerned for ours,” Jackson wrote.
“Why is this kind of outrage seemingly now just limited to Donald Trump?”
He says, for example, “The Los Angeles Times featured a story on Sunday about Alexander Gutierrez Garcia, who fled an oppressive dictatorship to seek refugee status in the United States, but unfortunately for him America’s president issued an executive order that denied him entry.
“That order came from President Barack Obama.”
Hunter continues: “So many of those outraged right now — and rightly — generally liked Obama. They trusted him. Now, similarly, Trump supporters will defend this president’s actions, no matter how much harm he causes, because they like and trust him too.
“But shouldn’t other people’s pain come before partisanship? …Shouldn’t lending our moral support or outrage be based on something more than merely what presidents we like?”
Plenty of others have and will weigh in on the issue. And no doubt, some of those opinions will make it onto our Viewpoint pages. But right now, we want to know what YOU think of all of this by taking our single-question poll (above and below).
The attack on police in Dallas has left many speechless and fearful. Others, however, are putting voice to our worries and fears. Here is a sampling:
“There are problems that our society has no idea how to fix — and the issues of race and policing are fall in that category. Body cameras help; better training helps; community policing helps; but these are not complete solutions. Ridding ourselves of these senseless shootings requires a degree of honesty about cultural bias, white privilege and perceptions about black and brown people that I’m not confident our society can muster. And as long as the immediate — and human — instinct is to draw a weapon in the face of fear, it is inevitable that an officer will eventually shoot to kill without cause.” — Tara Doolittle, Viewpoints editor
“(Dallas) Mayor Mike Rawlings’ assessment was tragically correct: ‘Our worst nightmare happened.’
Now we must wake up and unite. If we lead with anger, nobody wins.” — Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
“Because it’s what the heart demands when it aches, we tend to search for brightness among unimaginable darkness. Sometimes the darkness is so dark the search is unimaginably difficult.” — Ken Herman, American-Statesman columnist
“Yes, the good guys need our support. And I, for one, still believe in good guys. They are the ones who ran toward the gunfire, who scrambled to get innocents out of the way, who stood in salute of fallen brethren outside the Parkland Hospital ER. They are the only thing standing between us and the cowards who attack from comfortable perches on a peaceful Dallas street.” — Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle columnist
“Dallas knows what comes next. People will talk about guns, and hatred, and race, and Texas. Everyone will have a hero, and a villain, and a solution, and a way to blame some political opponent. And none of that will mean anything at all. Because what happened Thursday night in Dallas will leave us with no easy solutions — just nightmares to haunt us for years after a bloodthirsty ambush attack on police officers of all colors who were guarding peaceful protesters of all colors.” — Bud Kennedy, Ft. Worth Star Telegram columnist
“This horrendous attack on the police and the two killings this week demand sober reflection by the nation’s political and law enforcement leadership….with killings happening in cities, suburbs and rural communities, there needs to be leadership in every police department in the country that insists on cultural and attitudinal change. Credible civilian oversight of the police has to be a factor if community trust is ever to be restored. The latest ghastly images show how much has not been done, two years after Ferguson.” — New York Times Editorial Board
“Brown commands more than 3,500 sworn officers, who patrol Dallas’ 1.3 million residents spread over 385 square miles. He knows, day after day, that his department is one gunshot, one overreaction, one dubious decision from becoming the next national story.
And even when they don’t, when they do their very dangerous jobs with skill and professionalism, when they run toward the gunfire to keep the rest of us safe, it might not matter. It didn’t Thursday night. And that’s the world we now live in.” — Mike Hashimoto, Dallas Morning News editorial writer
When they’re not crying “political correctness” to divert legitimate criticism from themselves, Republicans use the phrase to portray Democrats and liberals as thought police out to squash free speech and the truth. Yet Republicans practice their own brand of political correctness, which keeps them just as firmly bound to their own party line.
A recent op-ed by the Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson, headlined “The politicization of the English language,” illustrates my point. Hanson begins by writing about the deletion of French President Francois Hollande’s use of the phrase “Islamist terrorism” from the official White House video of his meeting with President Barack Obama last week in Washington (see above). The deletion prompted several conservative publications to charge the White House with censoring Hollande.
I’m not here to defend the Obama administration, however. The deletion is indefensible if it was intentional. If it was a mere technical glitch, it was one that should have been noted and fixed immediately. I understand why Obama and members of his administration avoid saying “Islamic terrorism” or “radical Islamic terrorism” — they don’t want to grant legitimacy to terrorists who see themselves as defenders of Islam, nor do they want to promote the idea that the West is at war with all Muslims — but I don’t agree with their stubborn refusal to ever utter the phrase.
At the same time, Republicans such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have turned the phrase into a linguistic contortion of their own, to borrow wording from Hanson’s op-ed. They’re not primarily interested in speaking clearly about the nature of Islamic terrorism, but in using a political cudgel against Obama to advance their own ideological agenda.
We should denounce euphemisms that disguise, distort or soften political realities. In his own commentaries, however, Hanson has used such Republican euphemisms as “death tax” for “estate tax,” “enhanced interrogation” for “torture” and “Democrat” as an adjective rather than the grammatically correct “Democratic.” Obama, liberals and Democrats are fair targets for linguistic criticism, but one cannot condemn them as Orwellian while ignoring how one’s own side of the political divide also twists language to its benefit. In fact, from “activist judges” to “right to work” to “religious liberty” — their latest cause de la guerre culturelle — Republicans are the undisputed champs when it comes to grand abstractions, dog whistles and obfuscations of the language.
It’s also one thing to argue against political doublespeak. It’s another to be deliberately, willingly wrong.
“Obama has said the greatest threat to future generations is ‘climate change,’ a term that metamorphosed from ‘global warming’,” Hanson continues as he cites other examples of “politicized euphemisms to reinvent reality.” “The now anachronistic term ‘global warming’ used to describe a planet that was supposedly heating up rather quickly. But it did not account for the unpleasant fact that there has been negligible global temperature change since 1998.
“Rather than modifying the phrase to ‘suspected global warming’ or ‘episodic global warming,’ the new term ‘climate change’ was invented to replace it. That way, new realities could emerge. Changes of all sorts — historic snows, record cold, California drought, El Nino storms — could all be lumped together, supposedly caused by man-made carbon emissions.”
You can go here or here or here for articles debunking the myth that global warming stopped in 1998.
As for the phrase “climate change,” it has been around for decades in one form or another. Just consider, for an obvious example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international organization created — in 1988 — to study the effects of global warming. Or read the 1965 report prepared for President Lyndon Johnson that warned of “climactic changes” from the burning of fossil fuels. Or scan the titles of scientific papers published in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s that explore the effects of atmospheric carbon from the burning of fossil fuels on global temperatures and note how often “climate,” “climactic change” or “climactic variations” appear in their titles. What you won’t see in any of these early climate-change papers is the phrase “global warming,” which was first used in 1975 and entered the public environmental conversation only in the 1980s.
But wait! There is an Orwellian aspect to the phrase “climate change.” It’s just not the one many conservatives allege.
In a confidential party memo in 2002, Frank Luntz, Republican minister of language manipulation, urged conservatives and their fossil fuel allies to use the “less frightening” term “climate change” rather than the more catastrophic-sounding “global warming” to sow doubt and confusion about the growing scientific consensus on the issue. Sure enough, by 2003, “climate change” had become the George W. Bush administration’s phrase of choice. Ironically, Luntz’s memo accelerated into common usage something that was already happening — the interchangeability of “climate change” and “global warming.”
Censorship and the control of language are essential to Big Brother’s tyranny in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” But before anyone hyperventilates about one’s political opponents politicizing the language — “We are now 32 years beyond 1984, but we are at last living Orwell’s nightmare,” Hanson writes in his op-ed — one should take a look at their own group’s doublethink.
“It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. … (O)n major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory — the product of one American election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.”
In his column, Douthat sees, “in this time of political turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic,” an emerging Mars-Venus reversal of the Bush-era alignment Kagan explored — a reversal taking shape even though the United States remains the world’s only hyperpower and Europe is still militarily weak.
“It’s too soon to say Europeans are actually from Mars once again,” Douthat writes. “But the Continent’s Venusian idyll has taken blow after blow: the euro crisis, the aggressions of Vladimir Putin, and now the convergence of mass migration and Islamist terror. Nationalism is returning, border fences are going up. The center is weakening, the far right is gaining power. The Mediterranean and the Russian marches are zones of conflict again, and ancient habits — French military adventurism, Little Englander separatism, a tense relationship with Islam — are resurfacing.”
Meanwhile, Douthat writes, “if nationalism is making Europeans more militaristic, in America it’s inclining us to lay down the burdens of empire, to retreat into a self-sufficient Arcadia all our own.”
I’ll let Douthat’s column stand without comment, but it prompted me to revisit “Power and Weakness” as well as a Q&A I did with Kagan that was published in the Statesman on March 16, 2003, four days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In light of Douthat’s column, I thought the Q&A worth rescuing from the archives:
That Europeans and Americans no longer share a common view of the world has never been more obvious. The debate over Iraq has divided the strategic alliance that held the West together throughout the Cold War, and there are concerns it will not survive.
Even if present tensions ease, the fundamental disagreement about the use and legitimacy of force between the United States and its major European allies will remain, because America is militarily powerful, Europe is not and the powerful and the weak approach foreign affairs differently. For the powerful, force is always an option; for the weak, who cannot rely on force as an instrument of foreign policy, the emphasis must be on international rules, organizations and negotiation.
Robert Kagan examines this power gap in “Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order,” an expanded version of his influential essay “Power and Weakness” that appeared last summer in the journal Policy Review. Kagan’s analysis has given shape to the debate on U.S.-European relations and brought clarity to it. His take is not beyond challenge — questions and doubts arise reading both his essay and book — but it is an indispensable study for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of American and European positions and strategies.
Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.* He lives in Brussels, Belgium, and contributes regularly to the Weekly Standard and The Washington Post. He is usually lumped in with the so-called neoconservatives, a group of thinkers and writers who are generally considered the intellectual architects of a new interventionist policy that marries American power to American principles.
I spoke with Kagan last week about the rift between Europe and the United States. An edited transcript follows.
Austin American-Statesman: You write that Europeans inhabit a world where agreed-upon rules of behavior and international law trump military power. The way you describe it, it sounds like a pretty good world and it is, after all, the “paradise” of your book’s title. So why can’t the United States be a part of that paradise? Why must we remain outside it?
Robert Kagan: The United States is in effect the creator and the guarantor of that European paradise, which rests ultimately on a foundation of global security that the United States provides and the Europeans don’t have to provide. That’s the paradox: that the United States makes paradise possible for the Europeans only by not being in it itself. Because the fact is, outside the European continent, we have to deal with people like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and China and others who have not chosen the path that Europe has chosen.
Must America live by a double standard — not follow some international conventions, support arms control for others but not for itself, and so on — to achieve security? Doesn’t that expose us to charges of hypocrisy?
We’ve always been in this position; it’s not a new position. The international legal mechanisms of the United Nations have existed for almost 60 years now. The United States has done what it’s done in the world without reference to those institutions. In the real world we try to support international rules as best we can, but there are times, especially when it comes to the exercise of power, when the goal of furthering liberal international order requires that the United States be able to take some action without necessarily having the full support of an international body like the United Nations. There is no time in the past when the United States could have taken action, no matter what that action may have been, with the full support of the U.N. Security Council. And we lived in that world fairly comfortably.
I find it a bit odd for Americans, those who do, to suddenly suggest that the Security Council is the only place where one derives legitimacy for action. That’s not been the American position in the past, and it wasn’t even the European position as recently as four years ago with the war in Kosovo, which was conducted without a Security Council resolution.
Doesn’t exposing ourselves to charges of hypocrisy threaten what might be our greatest power, the power of our ideals and values?
It’s realism, not hypocrisy, to say that it is impossible to maintain order strictly through the legal mechanisms of the United Nations. A double standard is not exactly the same as hypocrisy. However, you make a reasonable point, and it’s unclear exactly what the answer is. Obviously a great deal of American power stems from the sense that America undertakes actions for the general good and not for purely selfish interests. If you look to the past, the legitimacy of American leadership in the world has always rested on the general opinion of our allies as to whether we were acting in a common interest or whether we were acting in a selfish interest.
Now on Iraq we obviously happen to be in strong disagreement with our allies. When American policy was engaged in the defense of Europe, Europeans by and large, and with some exceptions, found American behavior in the world to be fundamentally legitimate. Now that the United States is no longer engaged, at least in the immediate sense, in the defense of Europe, Europeans are finding more flaws in the American approach. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right.
Throughout the Cold War, the idea of the West was the organizing principle of foreign policy in Europe and the United States, structured to counter a threat from within Europe. But now the threat comes from beyond Europe — radical Islam, terrorism, failed states. Still, shouldn’t the idea of the West be the organizing principle of a new foreign policy to meet this new threat?
That’s a very American view. I can tell you there are very few Europeans who would see it that way because a) they just do not view the threat of international terrorism the way Americans do, and b) they have a very complicated relationship with their own Muslim populations and therefore with the Muslim world in general, and I just do not believe that what Americans see as the present threat creates a united West in anything like the same way that Soviet communism did.
For one thing, it’s a physical threat to the West, not a spiritual, ideological threat, which is what communism was. Communism was an alternative vision for the West; it was a path that the West could take. I don’t think the possibility of the West being converted to Islam is very great.
Then the West as we know it is a relic of the Cold War?
The West as a culture, as a political philosophy, as an economic philosophy and as an economic entity does exist and is very strong. But as a strategic entity, the West is a relic of the Cold War.
What do you think? How relevant are Kagan’s points 13 years later? Is the U.S.-European relationship headed toward “a kind of through-the-looking-glass version of the Iraq debate,” as Douthat suggests?
*Today, Kagan is a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.
It didn’t take long after news broke of Tuesday’s terrorist bombings in Brussels for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to politicize the attack and issue a call on Facebook urging his fellow Americans “to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” What these new “patrol and secure” powers would be or how they would jibe with the Constitution, Cruz didn’t say. But his post reinforced an observation I have long held that those who claim to love the Constitution more than the rest of us are also the ones who seem most likely to abandon it in a panic.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Brussels bombings and on Wednesday warned of additional attacks in the West. Two of three suicide bombers were brothers born in Belgium. A third suicide bomber was a Belgian born in Morocco. The three may have been part of a cell that also carried out the attacks in Paris in November that killed 130 people.
In 2008, scholars with the RAND Corporation produced a study, “How Terrorist Groups End,” that surveyed the fates of numerous terrorist organizations worldwide since 1968. Most terrorist groups end either because they eventually decide to join the political process, the study’s authors found, or because police and intelligence agencies arrest or kill a group’s key members. While the military has a role to play in the fight against terrorism, and sometimes the role can be large, the study’s authors concluded that terrorism is most effectively attacked as a political and criminal act rather than as an act of war. They called for a fundamental rethinking of America’s post-9/11 counter-terrorism strategy, starting with trashing the phrase “war on terrorism.” After all, you can’t defeat an abstract noun.
The Islamic State is not abstract. It is a religious terrorist organization as well as a rebel army that governs parts of Iraq and Syria. As a religious terrorist organization, it is even harder to defeat than groups that are exclusively political, and thus is a difficult law enforcement and intelligence challenge. As a rebel army, it can be pushed out of territory it occupies. And, in fact, the Islamic State has lost more than a fifth of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria.
Cruz and Donald Trump promise to bomb the Islamic State into oblivion if elected president, though at what cost or sacrifice they don’t say. I don’t mean to be overly pessimistic, but I don’t think anyone should be under any illusion that a President Cruz or a President Trump — or a President Hillary Clinton, for that matter — is likely to fundamentally redirect the nation from the counter-terrorism track it’s been on the past 15 years, or engage Islamic terrorism in a way that doesn’t continually risk making matters worse.
The agreements that drew the borders of the modern Middle East after World War I and unsteadily held it together for almost a century appear to have been thrown on history’s ash heap. Their dissolution probably was inevitable after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, out of which the Islamic State evolved. Acknowledging that fact would be helpful. Ditto acknowledging the counterproductive roles that Turkey and Saudi Arabia play in the Middle East — Turkey in undermining the fight against the Islamic State and Saudi Arabia in promoting the spread of radical Islam.
A determined respect for perspective over fear, and a resolute trust in our values, also would help, lest we become the giant who brushes away gnats by smashing furniture and breaking windows. I close with this quote from Salman Rushdie, written after 9/11:
“The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.
“How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”